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Music Review: Matthew Ryan – From a Late Night High-Rise

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The spare, whispering synthesizers and distant industrial noises that open Matthew Ryan's latest album, From a Late Night High-Rise (available digitally on December 5th), immediately evoke a sense of isolation and ache.  Given that Ryan began writing the album shortly after the death of a close friend and the sentencing of his brother to 30 years in prison, the sorrowful tone of the album comes as no surprise.  Ryan's vision isn't bleak, though.  Amid the turmoil is a resilient hope: "I'm full of doubt/Still I believe" — "Victory Waltz."

The amalgam of sadness and hope makes many of these songs some of the most moving and universal of Ryan's career.  A gifted and articulate songwriter, he has always displayed a knack for crafting poetic phrases, and he creates plenty of intriguing imagery on High-Rise — "Our igloo/Will soon be/In poisoned silver pools" — but the lines that ring with the greatest poignancy are the simplest.  As the driving "Babybird" climbs to its crescendo, Ryan declares, "And if you wake up scared/I hope you're not alone/I hope you're not alone/I hope you're not alone."  Elsewhere, on the aforementioned "Victory Waltz," he gently offers devastating truth, singing, "The ghost of living is worse than death."

The beauty of simplicity extends to the arrangements of the songs.  The unadorned instrumentation throughout much of the album allows Ryan's raspy, world-weary voice to step to the forefront of the tracks, adding to the intimate feel of the album.

The pervasive tone of High-Rise is in one sense a strength but in another sense a weakness.  Ryan's latest press release says the album is "a movie without a film; it's a novel without a book."  Lyrically, High Rise is akin to a good novel, with Ryan masterfully exploring facets of the human condition.  Musically, though, the album verges on a tired sameness at times, with a surplus of slow tempos and songs on the latter half of the album recalling earlier melodies. 

Still, it's the slow, delicate tracks such as "Gone for Good" and "Victory Waltz," or the subdued uptempo numbers like "Babybird," "And Never Look Back," and "Everybody Always Leaves" that are the strongest songs.  "Misundercould" and "Love Is the Silencer," Ryan's rocking efforts on High Rise, are the weakest.  In fact, "Love Is the Silencer" will leave you wishing for some silence.

Despite its weaknesses, From a Late Night High-Rise is remarkable for its beauty and sincerity.  Though it lacks the variety and polish of his previous release, Regret Across the Wires, it's a more daring and challenging record.  Ryan has crafted from his catharsis an album that is concurrently thought-provoking, heart-breaking, and uplifting.

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About Jason Middlekauff

  • I just noticed I used two superfluous hyphens in the last sentence of the review. That’s what I get for writing reviews late at night, I suppose.

  • I love this CD. It’s fantastic.